From Buddha to Jesus: An Insider’s View of Buddhism & Christianity
by Steve Cioccolanti
Official Response to Review by a Western Monk
© 2009 Steve Cioccolanti
Western Monk Attacks Christianity
Over the years I have come to realize that there are two forms of Buddhism that Christians have to face. One is the aggressive, overtly anti-Christian, Western version, promoted by Western converts and their Western-educated followers. The other is the conservative, respectful, Eastern version, lived day-to-day by the Asians who grew up with Buddhism. This latter form of Buddhism is the one I have written about in my book From Buddha to Jesus: An Insider’s View of Buddhism & Christianity. Since the book’s release, numerous responses have come from both Buddhists and Christians who interact with Buddhists, telling us how relevant the material is to them. Their comments are posted at our website for all to see: Read Reviews. As I suggest in my book, most native Buddhists are very respectful and actually like Christians. But this is not necessarily the case with Western converts to Buddhism. They are neoatheists with no respect for Christians, Jews or anyone who believes in God. The good news is most Buddhists are not like them and do not follow them. Hostility is very unbecoming of a true Buddhist, especially a monk. I read the Australian-born monk Shravasti Dhammika’s Good Question Good Answer half a year ago. Though I saw its fatal flaws, I thought not to respond to it. People have a right to their opinions and we should respect their point of view if they are sincere. I wanted to grant Dhammika the benefit of the doubt, until I recently was told that Dhammika posted a defamatory attack on Christianity, myself and my book From Buddha to Jesus: An Insider’s View of Buddhism & Christianity. Dhammika is typical of Western converts to Buddhism. Using an aggressive and argumentative style (contrary to any native Buddhist I’ve ever met), he makes Buddhism out to be an anti-Christian religion (which it’s not). He claims “people turn to Buddhism… because it’s (sic) gentle, respectful attitude to other faiths…in keeping with goodwill and tolerance.” Yet he insists Buddhism is superior to Christianity. “Buddhism is the only truly universal religion” (p 12). “Buddhism… is certainly (sic) more scientific than any other religion” (p 10). He speaks out of both corners of his mouth when he says Buddhism is a religion of peace and tolerance, while he constantly puts down Christianity and other religions calling them “narrow-minded” (p 8) and “a myth, a legend or a belief that is difficult or impossible to verify” (p 12). Here are more put downs: “Westerners reject Christianity [because of] the contradictions between Christianity and science”; “The Buddha, like modern sociologists and psychologists, believed that religious ideas and especially the god idea have their origins in fear” (p 16); “There does not seem to be any evidence to support this idea [of God]… Is it not surprising that with so many different religions… still no real, concrete, substantial or irrefutable evidence has been found?” (p 17) What condescension! He is only paying lip service to tolerance while showing the highest level of intolerance. Besides his contempt for Christianity, he shows his abhorrent ignorance of science. I doubt that the monk Dhammika knows much science.
Responding to Dhammika’s hostility will unlikely placate his hostile attitude, so I made the choice to respond for the benefit of those who may be offended and confused by him. He casts his net quite wide, attacking: monotheism (foolish according to him); Christianity (disproven according to him); Hillsong Church (of which I am not a part; I am not sure what scandal he is revelling over, but this is only gratuitous aggression); Thai Buddhism (conceited he calls it); my book; and myself. I will offer my response in 3 parts, addressing his comments on 1) science, 2) Christianity and 3) Buddhism. Before we delve into these issues, let’s be clear what Dhammika is all about: fear. Knowing that I have led and am helping others lead thousands of willing Buddhists to Jesus Christ, a freedom of choice guaranteed by the UN Declaration of Human Rights, he is extremely afraid. Dhammika gloats over a claim that millions of Christians are leaving churches, but that is only out of the old churches. There is an unprecedented Christian revival going on in China. South Korea is home to the world’s largest churches, with 800,000 members in Yoido Full Gospel Church alone. Singapore, where Dhammika lives, is home to some of the most creative and fastest-growing churches in the world. Dhammika has been trying to convert others to Buddhism for 30 years and says on his website that he has no follower. He has followers, but not nearly as many as he would hope. I know a Singaporean Buddhist who travelled with him to India. He was unimpressed with Dhammika and decided to stop following him. This is not personal to me. It’s about Christ. I will not defend myself. I will not address each of his ad hominem attacks against me, except to mention only one comment illustrative of Dhammika’s ungracious heart. Among his many presumptuous comments, Dhammika wrote: “He [me] came from a family of Catholics, Methodists, Buddhists and Muslims. This suggests to me that Cioccolanti came from a very nominally religious, not to say a religiously confused, background…” Why ‘confused’? Why not ‘well-informed’? Dhammika assumes that if one comes from a multi-faith background, one cannot possibly think clearly. An illustration not of my ignorance, but of Dhammika’s arrogance. Can I help it if I was born into a family of relatives who were committed to each of these faiths? Does Dhammika mock every person who comes from a multi-faith background? Dhammika is a Westerner who has dedicated his life to studying the Tripitaka; I have no disrespect for that. I have dedicated my life to helping people through faith in Christ and learning the Bible; if he disrespects me it is not my problem. Debating Buddhist texts in ancient languages is the pursuit of academics and the elite, of which Dhammika is one. I am interested in the millions of lay Buddhists whose faith is not perfect and often syncretic. That is why I wrote from the beginning of my book “an insider’s view of Buddhism and Christianity,” not an academic’s or professional’s or Western view. I never claimed to be a monk. I am only a commoner who has been involved in the lives of thousands of Buddhists and found out how they are suffering. I want to help end their suffering because I ended my suffering at the Cross of Jesus Christ. This does not mean I do not value academics and textual studies. I think a scholarly analysis of the Tripitaka using the same standards by which the Bible is judged (number of ancient manuscripts, internal and external consistency among texts from different
countries, scientific validity, fulfilled prophecies, global impact) would vindicate the Bible. But theory is not the primary pursuit of this book. Westerner intellectuals like Dhammika tend to treat religion theoretically (arguing and debating about ontology, epistemology, etc., proving who’s right). Easterners tend to treat religion practically. No matter how much Dhammika knows, the fact that he is rude and confrontational immediately makes Easterners feel his version of religion is useless. Easterners respect Mother Teresa and Billy Graham, even if they disagree with them, because their lives and conduct speak to the Eastern heart. Easterners emphasize smooth relationship and moral conduct over lofty theory. Knowing this I am more concerned about Buddhism as it is practiced among millions of polite locals rather than Buddhism as it is argued about by a few Western converts who overtly hate Christianity. What I wrote concerning Buddhism is what the lay Buddhist knows: Buddha was a prince who left everything (including his former religion of Hinduism) in pursuit of the truth and a way out of karmic suffering. I greatly admire Buddha. Although Buddha did not have the privilege of knowing Christianity, I firmly believe if he were alive today, he would be open-minded enough to study the Bible and have a civil dialogue with well-informed Christians. I also admire the Buddhists who try to follow Buddha’s example. Dhammika is not like Buddha; he is a rejecter of Christ with an axe to grind; a Western academic who uses Western thinking to attack Christianity. Dhammika wants to discredit opposing viewpoints and control people’s freedom to discover Christ for who He claims to be - Lord and Saviour. At stake are the freedom of information and the freedom of religion.
© 2009 Steve Cioccolanti
To read From Buddha to Jesus for yourself, visit your local bookstore, Amazon.com (US residents) or BuddhaBook.org (Internationals).
Dhammika’s Comments on Science
On page 10 of his book Good Question Good Answer, Dhammika claims, “Buddhism… is certainly (sic) more scientific than any other religion.” Yet it is interesting that nearly all the patriarchs of science were Christian: British physicist Sir Isaac Newton (father of Calculus – he loved the Bible more than physics), German astronomer Johannes Kepler, French biologist Louis Pasteur (who made great advances in health while arguing against evolution), American aviators Orville and Wilbur Wright (who changed transportation forever), and the list goes on and on. I understand many reasons why Buddhism prides itself as a “religion of reason,” but if Buddhism is the “most scientific religion,” why has it not produced any pioneer of science? Dhammika wants to bolster his persuasion by putting science on his side. The trouble with basing your religion on science is that science is changing all the time and you had better know your science! I studied both advance chemistry and advance biology, earning the top marks in both classes. That doesn’t make me an expert; one may have a PhD in science and still not have a science job. But I am well versed in evolutionary thinking, which is what I think Dhammika considers science. He seems to be unaware that there is an intelligent debate going on as a growing body of qualified scientists question the premises of evolution. This is increasingly in the secular news. It is obvious that Dhamikka has no education about the scientific arguments for and against evolution. To paraphrase Ray Comfort, I can lead Dhammika to scientific evidence but I cannot make him think, because he is too ignorant of science and too blinded by his anti-Christian bias. For open-minded people, I ask you to consider three pieces of evidence I encountered while studying evolution: 1) Evolution contradicts the Second Law of Thermodynamics or Entropy. Except for crystals, everything in the universe (plumbing, paint jobs, people) tends to move from a state of order to disorder; evolution requires the exact opposite to occur… and to occur frequently. However matter does not organize itself without intelligent input (CDs, DVDs, cars, buildings never organize themselves; all require intelligence) and there has never been one observation of spontaneous generation. Spontaneous generation is a fairy tale for grown ups. 2) Evolution contradicts the Law of Information - i.e. there can be no information without an intelligence source of information (see Dr. Werner Gitt, German Information Scientist). Not one single genetic mutation has been proven to add information to the genome. All known mutations (e.g. super-bug mutations) and natural selection (e.g. population shifts towards light or dark colour, big beak or small beak) involves a loss of pre-existing information. While Creationists refute evolution, all Creationists believe in natural selection as it merely selects pre-existing information. It does not create new information. Yet massive amounts of new information are required to make new species. There has not been one observable instance of new information being added to
the genome, a major problem for evolutionists. This fact has not been denied even by Richard Dawkins. (See http://creationontheweb.com/content/view/5712) Where did the original information for life come from? Evolutionists have no answer. Creationists have a logical answer: since information can only come from intelligence, the information for life must come from God - the supreme Source of Intelligence and the original Source of Life. The Creationist explanation is not only scientifically sound, it is consistent with a basic observation: only Life begets life. 3) Evolutionists have a difficult time explaining why only left-handed amino acids are found in the building blocks of life. In nature, there is an equal amount of right-handed and left-handed amino acids. But in life, there are only left-handed. If life occurred by random chance, we should see an equal proportion (50-50) of right and left-handed amino acids. The Law of Probability precludes life from arising by chance on this one factor alone, and there are many other equally compelling factors. Dhammika doesn’t know the difference between historical “science” and operative science. Historical “science” (evolution) is a re-telling of past events; of course, none of the scientists were there to witness nor re-create the events. (I as a Christian believe in the God who was there from the beginning, and this God gives His eyewitness account of the beginning in the Book of Genesis.) Evolution must be distinguished from operative science, which can test ideas by repeatable experiments and help us invent technologies that improve our lives. Accident, random chance, universal energy, and Big Bang explain nothing. Have you ever seen an explosion create order? What was there to explode in the beginning? Nobody knows. It’s simply irrational. Creation by an Intelligent Designer remains the most convincing explanation of why we are here.
© 2009 Steve Cioccolanti
To read From Buddha to Jesus for yourself, visit your local bookstore, Amazon.com (US residents) or BuddhaBook.org (Internationals).
Dhammika’s Comments on Christianity
Let’s proceed to Dhammika’s interpretation of Christianity. On page 4 of his book Good Question Good Answer, he writes: “In Christianity, the fish is used to symbolise Christ’s presence…” (P. 4). Used by whom? This is found nowhere in the Bible, except in one reference to Jesus calling Simon and Andrew to become “fishers of men” (Mark 1:17), which means fish is a symbol of men, not Christ. Ethical Questions On page 26 he asks, “If a good god [notice he capitalizes ‘Buddha’ but refuses to capitalize ‘God’ – a standard practice; he constantly shows his disrespects to other religions] really creates each of us, it is difficult to explain why so many people are born with dreadful deformities…” What’s so “difficult” to explain about that? People suffer because of karma or sin. Heaven has no suffering because there is no sin there. Hell is eternal suffering because all karma or sin is punished there. If we had no karma or sin, we would have no suffering. This is literally Sunday School Christianity. Dhammika might have abandoned his Christianity too early to learn this. On page 27 he states, “Another problem with theistic explanation is that it seems very unjust that a person should suffer eternal pain in hell for what he did in just 60 or 70 years on earth.” This is a question that most people have before they embrace Christianity. But once you appreciate God’s love for justice and God’s desire to protect victims, there is nothing perplexing about this. For 1 minute of rape, a rapist may be incarcerated for 35 years. Is this unjust? Apparently to Dhammika it is! But to a God of law and justice it is not. Dhammika shows he does not understand the legal or criminal justice system. God understands we cringe at the idea of going to hell for eternity, so He provided a counter-example for us to see His perspective. Before we go there, let me agree that I don’t like the idea of anybody going to hell for eternity. But I’ve also learned that people tend to be less willing to change as they age. The older people get the more fixed, stubborn and set in their ways they tend to become. It is conceivable that Dhammika might have been willing to change had he met a well-informed Christian at age 20, but now that he’s old, he has a name and teaching career to protect. How likely is that kind of individual to be truly open-minded or willing to change? That is why most religions aim for the youth, who tend to be more willing to change. My point is this: if people do not repent of their sins and trust in Christ after 60 years, what makes anyone think they will repent after 1000 years? It’s generally easier to admit you’re wrong the earlier you do it. God actually anticipated Dhammika’s question and answered it for him in advance. The proof that sinners who do not humbly seek forgiveness in this life will not become humbler in 1000 years is given in the Book of Revelation. The proof is Satan. Satan will be bound in the bottomless pit for 1000 years, and after the 1000 years are expired, “Satan shall be loosed out of his prison” for “a little season” (Revelation 20:3, 7) What will Satan do after being in hell for so long? Will he have thought about his misdeeds?
Will he have mended his ways? Will he say sorry for his arrogance and give glory to God? Will he spread joy and peace instead of havoc and hate? No! Satan will continue to do what he has always chosen to do – violence and deception (verses 8-10). Thank God he will be loosed for only “a little season,” just to prove to people like Dhammika that God has in fact thought about the situation, and it’s better to leave Satan in hell forever. The same goes for rapists, murderers, idolaters, and all liars…all “shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8). On page 27, Dhammika continues: “Likewise, 60 or 70 years of good living seems a very small outlay for eternal bliss in heaven.” Once again Dhammika left Christianity too early to understand the doctrine of salvation. No one is saved by 60 to 70 years of good works. Not even 600 years of good works will save you! Buddha and Jesus both agree that keeping rules and laws will not save you. We are saved by Jesus’ Perfect Work on the Cross. Why can we not save ourselves? Because Jesus alone is without karma or sin, therefore Jesus alone can save us. The Question of Mark 16 In chapter 33 of my book From Buddha to Jesus, I quoted the last words of Jesus from Mark 16:15-18. Dhammika questioned whether Mark 16:9-20 belongs to the Bible, based on a footnote he has read in the NIV Bible (“Some of the oldest mss. do not contain v. 9-20”). This unoriginal argument has always amused me. It’s funny to me that people who don’t believe the Bible believe the footnotes in the Bible… only when it suits them. In Mark 16:17-18, Jesus stated 4 signs that will follow a believer: “And these signs will follow those who believe: (1) In My name they will cast out demons; (2) they will speak with new tongues; (3) they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; (4) they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” These verses come from the Textus Receptus. The NIV questions it. What is the evidence? There are over 5000 surviving Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. 95% of them agree with the Textus Receptus compiled by Erasmus in 1516 and used by all Protestant reformers. The NIV bases its speculation on the other 5%. No genius there. The worst part is those texts belonging to the 5% disagree with each other over 3000 times in the Gospels alone. Very unreliable indeed. The supernatural signs Jesus promised Christians are problematic to Dhammika because he has no power and practices a “form without power” (2 Timothy 3:5). Born again believers all around the world including myself regularly experience these four powers. We do not follow a powerless self-invention but a powerful God. But let’s suppose with Dhammika for a moment that the footnote in the NIV commentary is more reliable than the Bible itself…let’s suppose Mark 16 isn’t in the Bible. It would not matter because:
The power of Jesus’ Name to cast out of demons is in Acts 16:18, 19:12. Speaking in tongues is in Isaiah 28:11, 1 Corinthians 12-14, Romans 8:26-27, Jude 1:20. Travelling without fear of snake bites is in Acts 28:3-6. The doctrine of laying hands and praying for the sick for physical healing is in Hebrews 6:1-2, Acts 28:8, James 5:13-16. By removing Mark 16 from the Bible, one has not changed the teachings of the Bible. This is one of the many evidences that the Bible is unique and inspired beyond human intellect. God anticipated Dhammika’s desire to “take away from the words of the book of this prophecy” even though God warned that He “shall take away his part from the Book of Life” (Rev 22:19), so God built into His Word an incredible level of structural integrity. It is tamper-proof against its enemies who desire to destroy it or delete certain parts of the message. The problem with removing parts of the message is that the message is still repeated elsewhere! No essential doctrine is in one single verse alone. Take any portion of the Bible away and Salvation through a Savior remains the constant theme. No matter how you slice and dice the Bible, Christ remains the central focus! There is simply no book in the world like the Bible. What’s more important? The Bible or the footnote of some commentator added later to one English version? Perhaps Dhammika should study and believe the Bible more than the footnotes. The Protestant Reformation Dhammika questions my statement that the Protestant Reformation was a protest about the authority of Scripture versus the authority of the Pope. Quote: “He [me] says that Martin Luther protested against ‘the idea that the Pope was infallible’ (p.11). But the issue of papal infallibility is not mentioned in any of Luther’s 95 Theses…” Would he care to read Martin Luther’s 95 Theses? Here are excerpts: #5 The pope …. cannot remit any penalties… #6 The pope cannot remit any guilt… #27 They preach man who say that so soon as the penny jingles into the money-box [collection of Papal taxes], the soul flies out [of purgatory]. #32 They will be condemned eternally, together with their teachers, who believe themselves sure of their salvation because they have letters of pardon [from the Pope]. #36 Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of pardon. [The doctrine of salvation by faith in Christ alone, denying the Pope’s or priests’ or oneself’s ability to save.] #52 The assurance of salvation by letters of pardon is vain… [no priest, monk or pious person can save. Only Jesus is the Saviour.] #54 Injury is done the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or a longer time is spent on pardons than on this Word. [The great schism between the Catholics
and Protestants is over the supreme authority of God’s Word over man’s word, including the Pope’s.] #62 The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel… [reiterating the supremacy of the Bible over human opinions and theories.] #76 We say, on the contrary, that the papal pardons are not able to remove the very least of venial sins… #94 Christians are to be exhorted that they be diligent in FOLLOWING CHRIST, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hell. [Better to die trusting Christ than live fearing the Pope’s punishment or any religious persecution. Religious people are the most violent people, but not to be feared when we are saved in Christ.] #95 And thus be confident of entering into heaven rather through many tribulations, than through the ASSURANCE OF PEACE. Can anyone miss Luther’s point, other than Dhammika? The 95 theses clearly challenge the Pope’s power to save, uphold the Bible as pure truth, and uplift Jesus as the only Saviour we are to follow. By Martin Luther’s standard (see 94th and 95th theses], Dhammika is a false teacher who piles tribulation on people who are saved and promises peace to people who are not. There is no peace to the person with karma. Karma exacts revenge and suffering. What Buddha taught is absolutely logical. The goal of life is to be cleansed of our karma, even at the cost of forsaking our family, friends, and former religion [Buddha did], and of embracing persecution from onlookers, blasphemers, and religious murderers. Who is Really Afraid? Dhammika, like some who left old churches, thinks that his experience of Christianity is universal; a common misconception they share is that Christians live in guilt or fear. The Bible teaches the contrary: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18) On page 16, Dhammika wrote, “The Buddha, like modern sociologists and psychologists, believed that religious ideas and especially the god idea have their origins in fear…” and “Primitive man…created the idea of gods.” What condescension! His blanket statement excludes the many modern sociologists and psychologists who do believe in God. The irony is most Christians I know live without fear of a loving God, while most Buddhists I know live in constant fear of karmic retribution, superstition and evil spirits. Why do you suppose Buddhists wear idols and carry good luck charms? Fear. Why do shops and hotels have idol altars and ghost houses which the owners must appease and feed? Fear. Much of the Buddhist’s religious life is doing merits to seek for protection. The Christian’s life is already saved, blessed and protected by the finished work of Jesus Christ. We have no fear, not even of death. Paul said:
“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is GAIN. 22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet WHAT I SHALL CHOOSE I cannot tell. 23 For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a DESIRE TO DEPART and BE WITH CHRIST, which is FAR BETTER. 24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. 25 And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith.” (Philippians 1:21-25) Does that sound like the words of a person living in fear? As a Christian, the aged Paul said he had a choice whether to live or die, stay or go, and he said to die is GAIN and to go to Heaven is FAR BETTER because he would BE WITH CHRIST. How could you improve on being with your Maker and Saviour? To be with Christ is to be set free from all uncertainty and fears, in this life and for eternity. This life is but a vapour, but we will spend eternity without knowing any more sin nor suffering! Thanks be to Christ who suffered on behalf of sinners! God still loves those who hate Him Dhammika teaches an anti-Christian version of Buddhism (something Buddha would never have done) and he cannot help himself from attacking Christianity. He attacks one of the central tenets of Christianity on page 31, “there is not a scrap of evidence to prove the existence of heaven,” yet on page 28 he contradicts himself and admits the existence of heaven and hell. His struggle with Christian concepts must be confusing. A good question I have is, “Who created heaven and hell (which Buddha believed in) if there is no God?” For someone who says he doesn’t believe in God, Dhammika likes to mention God a lot! What shall we make of a person who talks about Someone whom he doesn’t think exists? What shall we make of a Buddhist monk who repeatedly assaults the Highest Being of the Christian faith? Is it not a karma to be so rude and disrespectful to Christians, Christianity and Christ? True Buddhists are polite and know Buddha taught us “to respect each other and refrain from disputes” (The Teachings of Buddha, Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai, p 22). Because Dhammika had spent some early years in “Sunday school” (we don’t know which kind of church, school or denomination nor for how long) he thinks he is an authority on Christianity. He doesn’t understand who Jesus is, how to be saved, what the Bible says, or what the Protestant Reformation was about. Some authority indeed. Don’t be fooled.
© 2009 Steve Cioccolanti
To read From Buddha to Jesus for yourself, visit your local bookstore, Amazon.com (US residents) or BuddhaBook.org (Internationals).
Dhammika’s Comments on Buddhism
Let’s proceed to Dhammika’s Western knowledge of Buddhism. Dhammika generalizes about Thai people, “Like many Thais, Cioccolanti labors under the conceit that what’s done in Thailand is Buddhism.” He calls Thais’ beliefs about Buddhism conceited despite the fact that Thailand represents the largest practicing Buddhist country in Southeast Asia – both by percentage (95%) and by population (63 million). Dhammika must have missed chapters 4 and 23 in which I explained to readers that Buddhism is a diverse religion with many fractures and divisions; Buddhists do not agree amongst themselves about their text or their leadership. Therefore “it is difficult…to make universal statements about what every single Buddhist believes” (page 35 US edition) and I “have focused on Buddhism as it is lived and practiced in the largest Theravada Buddhist country in modern times [Thailand]. I have not excluded perspectives from other countries when it was appropriate to touch on them.” (page 167) Shall a Western convert define Buddhism better than 60 million Buddhists? His form of confrontational, intolerant Buddhism is indeed foreign to Thais. The simple fact is: no matter how much Pali and Sanskrit Dhammika learns, no matter how many hours he chants and meditates, he will never know Buddhism the way it’s lived by the average Asian who grew up with it. That is why I wrote my book From Buddha to Jesus: An Insider’s View of Buddhism & Christianity (not an academic’s, professional’s or Western view). Western Assumptions Dhammika claims Buddhism is a naturalistic religion in which any of my references to the supernatural, the demonic, or miraculous healing would be scoffed at. This is only true in the Australian’s own materialistic mind. He has obviously had no exposure to the realities of Asian life. I’ve ministered in 30 countries, including many Asian countries, and it is the Buddhists who tell me of their fears of evil powers and the Buddhist monks and nuns who tell me of their encounters with the demonic. I know of many real-life testimonies from Singaporeans to Israelis who have delved seriously into meditation only to encounter evil that nearly drove them insane. Perhaps in Dhammika’s Ivory Tower of Intellectualism, Western materialism reigns, but on the streets of Asia, people know the supernatural and fear the demonic. When people become Christian, they discover that no other name breaks the power of evil like the Name of Jesus (Mark 16:15, John 14:14, 16:23-26, Acts 3:16). There is real power to deliver people from the cycle of suffering in the Saviour’s Name! I have come across so many of these stories of native Buddhists from Sri Lanka to Singapore, I am going to write another book documenting such real life experiences. Buddhism does not have to be defined by a Western convert; it can be defined by the thousands of testimonies of ordinary Buddhists. Western Idealism
On page 6 of his book Good Question Good Answer, he lifts up the dictatorship of Burma as a shining example of Buddhism. Quote: “Parents are honored and respected by their children, the crime rate is relatively low, divorce and suicide are almost unheard of, as are domestic violence and child abuse, pornography and sexual license are non existent.” This is illustrative of how ignorant a Westerner who lives among Asians can be of grassroots life. If sexual license is non-existent in Burma, how does Dhammika explain the growing HIV AIDS problem there? I concur that pornography may be limited in Myanmar, but no thanks to Buddhism. It is mainly due to the dictatorship’s strict control over Internet access (perhaps one benefit of living under a dictatorship?). If Dhammika doesn’t know domestic violence is rampant in Asian countries, then he must get out of his Ivory Tower of Academia more often. I regularly minister to Buddhist women who are abused or cheated on by their Buddhist husbands. The problem exists among Christians, too, but at a far lower rate. Any skeptic who disbelieves that needs only check the HIV AIDS statistics in countries where there are more Christians (Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Singapore, South Korea). Those numbers won’t lie. Suicide? See statistics on Japan – a country where Dhammika says 93% of the population call themselves Buddhists – Japan heads the list of highest suicide nations in the world. Most suicides (60%) occur in Asia, a place where Buddhist philosophy has dominated. China, India and Japan, all influenced by Buddhism, account for 40% of all world suicides according to the World Health Organization (WHO Statement: World Suicide Prevention Day 2008). Is it a surprise that more people take their own lives in places where they are told there is no God, no meaning, no purpose, and life is recycled? Is it any surprise people have a healthier image of themselves and of life when they discover the truth: that God created us as precious, loves us, and has a good plan for our lives? Suicide occurs less in countries where there are more Christians. Statistics do not lie. Murder? Check out Sri Lanka – a bastion of Buddhism and of violence. Buddhist countries have some of the highest murder rates in the world. Spread out the newspapers of Asia and see murder on the front cover nearly every day. Spread out Australia’s The Age and I can rarely find a murder story. Is it a surprise that murder is more common when people are told human life is no more special than a fly’s or mosquito’s life? Agree or disagree with abortion, but at least everyone knows Bible-believing Christians would not dare to even take an unborn baby’s life. Such is the respect for life a believer in God has. Because God made humans in His image and in His likeness, we are the crown of His Creation. We are very precious to Him, so precious He came to die for our sins! Western Materialism Without a belief in God, Dhammika teaches what is common to godless people: “What is the purpose of life? To get or to be content and happy.” (p 13) This does contradict Buddhism! If all Buddha cared about was happiness, he would have stayed in the three palaces his rich father provided for him and lived with his wife and newborn child.
Buddha did not leave his palace to search for happiness but for an end to samsara – the vicious cycle of suffering and reincarnation. What did Buddha say was the cause of human suffering? Karma. Hence Buddha was seeking a solution that the Bible provided – a way out of sin, suffering and death. Being a rejecter of Christianity, Dhamikka would never admit that, but most native Buddhists I know have no problem seeing the similarity between Buddhism and Christianity. Notice how vigilantly the Western convert to Buddhism tries to avoid Christiansounding terms like ‘sin’ (which is what karma is in day-to-day usage) and ‘salvation’ (which is the goal of every honest sinner). We do good, seek religion, and pursue information because we are all seeking salvation from our moral and physical decay, not to be “happier” people. Happiness is the goal of Western materialism. Salvation from karmic suffering is the goal of Eastern religion – both Buddhism and Christianity (which originated in the Middle East). Western Myopia Dhammika says he has never heard of racism in Asia. I wrote, “’Nearly all…Buddhists who believe in reincarnation desire to come back in the next life with whiter skins…” Dhammika responded, “I lived in Sri Lanka for 20 years, studying and later teaching Buddhism and I count amongst my many Sinhalese friends simple villagers, middle class people, monks and university professors and I have never heard anyone ever express such an idea. Likewise, I have taught Buddhism in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and India and I have never heard this idea mentioned there either.” Of course not. Why would anyone tell this Westerner? Asians tend to be subtle and not loud-mouthed. No matter how long he lives in Asia, no Buddhist is going to tell him if they have a bias towards lighter skin. The caste system of ancient India placed light skin people at the top and dark skin people at the bottom. Whereas in the Christianized West, we see this as racism, many Asians see this as the lot of reincarnation – something to be accepted because of one’s past deeds in some previous life. Many Indians are proud of their “Aryan” or light skin heritage. Reincarnation has given them the socio-economic upper hand. If Dhammika doesn’t understand that racism is pervasive throughout Buddhist Asia, he might ask his Buddhist friends how many of them would marry their daughter to a black man? Dhammika rightly says there is also racism in ‘Christian’ America. Wherever there are sinners, there are unfortunately racists. Racism against the Jews, and God’s hatred of it, is well documented in the Bible. But the racism in America is more poignant only because of the rich ethnic diversity there. Has Dhammika never noticed there are almost no blacks in Asia? Has he never noticed that Asians carry around umbrellas to protect their skin from becoming darker? Has he not noticed that lighter-skinned Asians tend to hold higher political power? No one in Asia is going to draw attention to this because Asians are polite. No one likes to talk about it, but prejudice will be around as long as there are sinners. For Dhammika’s sake, I will reveal the unspoken truth that many Buddhists are prejudiced against their own
people based on shades of skin tone. This attitude is pervasive among millions who believe in reincarnation, even if Dhammika has never heard of it. Western Superiority Complex Dhammika misapplies quotes and misuses statistics. He quotes from my book, “The 2006 Census tells us that the number of Buddhists has grown by 107% since 1996.” Then he asks, “Why do so many Westerners leave Christianity and embrace it [Buddhism]?” He seems to have an outdated image of “white Australia”! Today Australia is a very multicultural society. The rise in Buddhism has little to do with white Westerners leaving Christianity, or with the superiority of Buddhism, but mainly with the rise of Asian immigrants. The more Dhammika cites how some Westerners accept Buddhism, the more he sounds like he has a Western supremacist mentality. Does Dhammika really think that Westerners embracing Buddhism makes it more credible? He assumes that if some Westerners like it, therefore it must be logical and rational. But the majority of Westerners reject Buddhism, bowing to idols, and belief in reincarnation, does that make them illogical? That some Westerners are turning to Buddhism does not equate to ‘Buddhism must be the most logical religion in the world.’ Studies of Western post-modern culture reveal that Westerners are drifting away from a rational to experiential culture. The desire to reject authority and tradition and to experiment with something different and mystical is the prime motivator of Westerners looking into Eastern mysticism. Many Western converts to Buddhism are driven by strong emotions against Christ and the Church. As Buddhist converts, they revile God, mock the Church, and crusade against Christianity. Is this real Buddhism? I certainly am one person who teaches that “Buddhism is a religion of reason,” but for different reasons than Dhammika. His reason is that some Westerners like him have ‘seen the light’ that Christianity is illogical; therefore by the mere fact that some Westerners like him have turned to Buddhism, it must be more logical. I believe it’s logical to find an end to suffering. I believe it’s reasonable to find a way out of the vicious cycle of karma. And I believe it’s humble to stop trying to “help myself” but admit “I need Help.” I have found by personal experience that people who think Westerners are superior also hate the Jews. I would like to hear Dhammika’s official stance on the Jewish people. I have a letter from one of his friends which states, “The root cause of all religio-political evils in the world – Judaism, the religion of the Jews. Many misguided people today refer to the Jews as the most intelligent and blest (sic) people of God! What a shame.” I am concerned that people who follow Western converts to Buddhism may not be aware they might be following bigoted neo-atheists. Many Asians would not have considered the connection between white supremacy and anti-Semitism (Jews seem equally ‘white’ to us), but history proves the connection. One need only mention Adolf Hitler. I would be glad to know for certain that Dhammika loves the Jews, but then why does he associate with such anti-Jew, anti-Christian bigots?
Growing up in Asia, I never once heard of Buddha claiming superiority. He was on a logical and moral quest for freedom from karma - respectful of all religions. I also have never claimed to be superior in logic or morals to any person, Buddhist or otherwise. On the contrary, to become a Christian, I had to admit that I have done many things worthy of Hell, I have done nothing worthy of Heaven, and therefore I need a Saviour. I am like a beggar who has found a Rich Man (Jesus) willing to save my life. Would it be ethical if I should keep this news to myself? Am I not honour-bound and duty-bound to go tell other beggars like me, “Come and meet this kind and generous Saviour who rescued me!”? If some say, “I don’t believe Jesus. No one can be that good. Who is going to help me? I have to help myself,” then they are entitled to stay where they are. But thank God millions like myself have trusted in Christ to erase all our karma and give us liberty! Reincarnation On pages 27-28, Dhammika tries to answer the question of reincarnation, “How does the mind go from one body to another?” He says, “Think of it [the mind] being like radio waves…At death, mental energy travels through space, is attracted to and picked up by the fertilized egg. As the embryo grows, it centres itself in the BRAIN from where it later “broadcasts” itself as the new personality.” This is nothing but his imagination. He is believing what he wants. He claims, “When we die, the MIND…re-establishes itself in the fertilized egg.” First, there is a mathematical problem with this reincarnation model. There are more people being born than dying. So where are all the new MINDS coming from? Second, by Dhamikka’s own definition, a human is only a brain, a mind, or a collection of mental impulses. This is one reason why I say Buddhism is a religion preoccupied with the flesh. The Bible says we possess a mind and a body, but we are more than our bodies and minds. We are an eternal spirit made in the image and likeness of God. Dhammika denies all things of the spirit and claims I do not know the Buddhist doctrine of “anatta” or “no soul,” but I addressed it and disproved it using Buddhism itself in chapter 26 of From Buddha to Jesus. Reincarnation is one of those unprovable doctrines. Dhammika spends a lot of time on it trying to offer proof. Once again he goes to a field of which he knows nothing – science. On page 33, he asks a rhetorical question, “Well, have there been any scientists who believe in rebirth?” To which he answers, “Yes. Thomas Huxely [Darwin's bulldog].” Isn’t that something? One can find scientists who believe in anything – God, no God, Bible, Quran, or nothing. He likes to name scientists who believe Buddhism, but the truth is far more scientists believe in the Bile than Buddhism. The greatest pioneers of science professed Christ. Dhammika believes that another “proof” of reincarnation is the psychological reports of people who have memories of their “former lives” (pages 31-32). Dhamikka calls these reports “cold, hard facts”.
But there are many more reports (books written) of Christians who have been to Heaven and Hell. (e.g. Choo Thomas’ bestseller Heaven is So Real.) There is Scriptural precedence as both Paul and John visited Heaven while they were alive. Jesus Himself spoke of both Heaven and Hell, claiming He “came from Heaven” (John 3:13, 6:41, 51, 58). Yet Dhammika would dismiss such evidence as irrational. What a double standard! It raises suspicion to me how many who believe in reincarnation claim they were someone famous like Marilyn Monroe or Napoleon Bonaparte in their past life (how many Napoleons can there be?); how no child has any recollection of their former language; how supposed memories of past lives are often induced by mind-altering drugs. Pit these spurious stories against the testimonies of cogent people who didn’t take drugs and taught people not to lie – Jesus, John and Paul – and I would choose to believe in Heaven and Hell over reincarnation any day! In chapter 16 of my book From Buddha to Jesus I asked, “Who has escaped reincarnation? Most Buddhists would say we don’t know who has done it SINCE BUDDHA.” This is correct. Since the time of Buddha, we cannot be certain of anybody who has attained enlightenment. Dhammika takes me out of context to try to refute my point. He says, “The first 35 pages of the Vinaya mention more than a thousand people who attained enlightenment.” Yes, but that was 2500 years ago. Would Dhammika provide a 21st century list of who has attained enlightenment from the millions of Buddhists today? Of course he cannot. My point is that the chances of self-enlightenment through self-effort are slim. In context my question was clearly asking how likely is it for a present-day follower of Buddhism to escape the cycle of suffering? If I had known how belligerent Dhammika would feel, I could have rephrased the question as, “Who has attained enlightenment since the TIME OF BUDDHA or in OUR MODERN TIMES?” But in context this was unnecessary since I went on to acknowledge that Buddhism claims that some ancient followers had attained enlightenment. I cited the first 5 disciples as examples (Ananda conveniently was declared enlightened hours before the First Buddhist Council met). I am well aware lots of people claim enlightenment, but on what basis do we trust their claim? Can Dhammika give anyone an assurance of freedom from the law of karma? If not, why gamble? Why convince yourself that through your own self-efforts you can attain what millions of people for 2500 years could not attain? Is this not self-deception (loeng as Buddha called it)? Honesty makes us acknowledge we are full of karma and only someone with no karma could show us the way out. Jesus was without karma. Jesus said He is the way out. It’s so logical. Corrections of From Buddha to Jesus Dhammika tells us that the picture of the bodhi tree in my book is not the right species of bodhi tree (Ficus bengalensis instead of Ficus religiosa). I thank him for pointing it out. Book illustration is understandably not my job and the reader is not being given a
horticulture lesson, but a bridge to understand the similarities between Buddhism and Christianity. Dhammika corrects my spelling of Buddhist terminology. I humbly accept. The fact is I never said I spoke Pali or Sanskrit. I have no interest to and I know most Buddhists also share my view. Most Christians do not need to know Greek or Hebrew to become a better Christian, and those scholars who learnt Greek and Hebrew have not necessarily become better Christians by their study of languages. The fact is I am translating wellknown Buddhist terms from my native language of Thai. Tamma is the Thai pronunciation of Dharma. Gumma is our pronunciation of karma. It’s a “tomato” “toMAto” distinction. What we care about is how to escape the law of karma, not argue about how to spell it and die in karma! Dhammika never tires of nitpicking. He tires at least some of us with his citations to Buddhist references, most of which no practicing Buddhist knows anything about. It’s not like quoting, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” or “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” which both Christians and non-Christians have likely heard before. Dhammika cites the Tripitaka as if it is on par with the Bible. That’s elevating the Tripitaka to a status that is unknown to the rest of the world. Not even practicing Buddhists give the Tripitaka the same attention Christians give the Word of God. Why? Because the Tripitaka has no original manuscript, was not published in a single volume until the 20th century, and cannot be agreed upon even by Buddhist authorities. The Burmese edition of the Tripitaka contains 40 books, Thai 45 books, Pali 57 books, and the Mahayana version adds 2184 other sacred writings! If the Bible were like the Tripitaka, varied so much from country to country, had no original manuscripts, and were not published in its entirety until the 20th century, I wonder how many people would still trust the Bible? No test can prove the various modern versions of the Tripitaka represent the original words of Buddha. The Tripitaka is a valuable piece of literature, but any assertion that it has never been changed is completely unreliable. In contrast, our New Testament is confirmed by 24,000 manuscripts in Greek, Latin and multiple other languages. No other text in the world has been more verified and scrutinized over. It is still winning the hearts and minds of lawyers and farmers alike. Unlike Christianity, Buddhism is not a textual religion. That is why none of the Buddhist denominations can agree which text is correct. It is likely that Hindu, Taoist and various cultural pressures have influenced the modern versions of the Tripitaka. The reason we know the Bible was not corrupted is because it was and continues to be 1) the most quoted book in the world and 2) the most translated book in the world – early believers translated it into all known languages for immediate dissemination. That means any alteration in one copy would also have to alter all the quotes and translated copies elsewhere in the known world. From partial quotes by poets to full translations by scholars, we can prove that the Bible is precisely preserved and intact. Closing Remarks
Dhammika is right that I only quote stories and parables that most lay Buddhists know about. That is my intention. Studying Buddhist texts in ancient languages is the pursuit of academics and the elite. I am interested in the millions of lay Buddhists whose faith is not perfect and often syncretic. What I wrote concerning Buddhism is what the lay Buddhist knows: Buddha was a prince who left everything (including his wealth, family and former religion) in pursuit of the truth and a way out of karmic suffering. I admire Buddha. Let me repeat that if Buddha were alive today, I believe he would greatly admire both the Bible’s message and the Saviour it presents to the world. At the end of the day, Dhammika cannot claim he has achieved the 8-fold path, that he has exerted “perfect effort.” “We all get a second chance to improve our lives” sounds nice like a pipedream. The honest truth is humans are failing miserably to improve themselves. It appears we are getting worse with each successive generation. It was only within the last century that we waged two world wars against each other. Japan, a Buddhist country, was the instigator. Hitler and Stalin were avowed atheists (Hitler had a Catholic upbringing which he left long before taking power). Who rescued the wartorn world? Christian nations – America, Australia and Great Britain. The reality is people are not getting better and the Bible predicted that worse wars are yet to come. Today we have more serial killers, more criminals, more divorce, more social and economic disparity, yes even among the Buddhists. There is more karma in every way. Both the Bible and Buddha predicted it. Only Western converts to Buddhism would mislead people to believe in their own goodness. We are not good enough. That is why we carry drivers’ licenses, lock our doors, close our gates, put up fences, walls, security systems, and surveillance cameras, pass through metal detectors, memorize passwords… are these not sufficient reminders that humans don’t trust each other and the only humans worth trusting are those who obey God’s moral standards – don’t lust, don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t kill, don’t covet? The longer we live, the more sins we pile up on our account. Dhammika has no solution but to tell us to just keep trying, just keep exerting more effort. But what if he is wrong? Then his followers die in their sins and suffer karmic revenge forever. It’s a terrible gamble. If Christianity is wrong, no loss will be incurred by living a good clean life trusting a Loving Saviour Jesus Christ. If Christianity is right, we have everything to lose by dismissing the Saviour and everything to gain by embracing Him! “Every knee shall bow…and every tongue shall confess…that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10-11)
© 2009 Steve Cioccolanti
To read From Buddha to Jesus for yourself, visit your local bookstore, Amazon.com (US residents) or BuddhaBook.org (Internationals).